While I wasn’t crazy

The meds (Goddess be blessed) seem to have been working out and things suddenly, almost overnight, turned OK. (For those who are wondering – it’s Lamictal-Paxil, both in very low doses.) It has stifled the writing a little, as well as taking away much of interest to write about here.

I had a lot of last month off – not necessarily for fun stuff, CME type stuff and credentialing mostly, but still…not work. This was wonderful.

I’ve been able to appreciate the world again, to want to see it and love it.

Last night and into today, after being back about a week, and again on shift work, though not as brutal as before, I had nightmares all night. I know some of the readers are into that psychological stuff, so I’m going to do a highlights recap here and see what anyone thinks is fun to toss out as interpretation.

To be fair, I’m not sure at all what I believe about dreams – whether they are from the unconscious or some kind of psychological source, whether a neurological cleaning and memory mechanism (probably I mostly believe that), or something metaphysical (“One-sixtieth of every dream is true?”).

I will note the following events over the last week. When I was at the clinic, a doctor was attacked by a patient and the patient’s relative. It wasn’t particularly scary when it happened, more like a high school type fight, and I called the cops to come break it up. I was upset by it but not terribly, more at the fallout regarding how the doctor was treated by management and licensing authorities.

Second, there was a recent break-in at the neighbor’s apartment. Simple theft, about a month ago, but I felt sort of invaded. It’s not like car theft, I mean, it’s someone’s home.

Third: I have been practicing lots of meditation/metta style (though that one feels oddly selfish to me) and various other techniques. I’m in the “noble failure” stage, but am still working at it. I’ve finally come to see the value in a settled, happy person as being kinder to the world (whereas in the past, I thought, very much in line with my culture, that a degree of righteous anger and discontent was necessary to keep one working to better things). Last night I came to bed somewhat anxious, and tried the deep breathing techniques, and tonglen, which has seemed scary in the past. I’m wondering that, if you believe in it, it’s psychological resistance to trying to calm anxiety.

Fourth: I don’t write about this a lot, but I live in a part of the world embroiled in a violent conflict. Last week, the government on “my side” (if one can say that, though in this case, that kind of thinking – the my side / their side just means everyone loses) did something violent and inexcusable. And it feels like there’s nothing that anyone can do to stop this, and my partner and I have once again been wondering: United States, Australia, New Zealand? Over the last ten years, every time I am in North America, I feel like it is very shallow, everyone having these long conversations about which tile to pick out. I was there recently, though, and my partner and I promised each other that if we go there, we wouldn’t become that. And when we came back here, and this event happened, we said, Fuck…maybe the conversations about floor tiles aren’t so bad. Especially compared to the ones about casualty numbers.

Fifth, the most prosaic: it has turned hot here, and sleeping during the day (and night) means a lot of sweating and physical discomfort and icky sleep.

Dream One Woke me up at 5 AM, panicky, to the point of having to turn on the light and check the house:

It is night at the clinic, toward closing time, maybe 1 AM. We’re trying to close up – the clinic in the dream is pretty much like it is in real life, nothing distorted in the layout, same auxiliary staff, and they keep letting people in (theoretically, we see everyone who walks in by official closing time). I’m sorta pissed off because they keep letting “one last patient” in. (Note: this actually happened last night.) At the end, everything is closing up, lights are off, doors are locked, and we’re trying to see the end of the patients.

Then someone comes to the door. He’s scary. He is tall, maybe 7 feet, and thin and has shoulder-length hair and doesn’t look quite human. His eyes are dark and blank, he looks sort of like pictures of Jesus, but scary. He’s dressed in white. He has no facial expression, but he is here to be treated.

And he is terrifying, and we tell them, “Don’t let him in,” but then something about having to treat all comers and ethics pops up and they let him in. It becomes immediately apparent that he is a murderer. Also, he removes two prostheses from his lower legs, revealing bilateral Syme amputations, and he walks on the stumps, and his shins are disproportionately long anyway so he’s still tall.

He has a medical letter describing that he is part of a white supremacist motorcycle gang (not really something found in this part of the world), and lost the feet in an accident. He is also described as having had sociopathic tendencies during the hospitalization.

We are terrified, I go to call the police. On the phone I calmly tell them where we are, and fumble trying to think of the street number (Note: this is exactly what happened when I called the police for the real-life incident, we’re in a shopping center and everyone just says that and no one knows the actual number, but they asked.)

Everyone tries to hide from him around the clinic, while still trying to treat him. I wake up suddenly with the image of the man in my mind, and wonder if this will be one of those terrible dreams that are almost forgotten by morning. My beloved cat is sleeping on one side of me, my partner on the other.

In the end I turn on the light and get up and check the house.

I have no mental association of a man of that description whatsoever. Or white supremacist gangs.

Dream Two

I am lying in bed, and for some reason I am sobbing and very ill. Sweating. I hear noise outside toward the apartment door (it opens onto a courtyard), and go to see what happened. I discover that the window and door have been attempted to be broken into; the window is open, and the metal and paint around the door lock is chipped away, and the thing that covers the gap at the bottom of the door has been prised off, leaving a gap.

The gap under the door is big enough for my cat to go in and out, and he is there creeping under and playing around, along with a strange cat who I don’t want in the house. Also, I know that now I have a hole where mice and snakes can enter and I think, Shit, what can be done about this?

I decide to call the landlord and tell him this needs to be fixed. I think I am in underwear and a T-shirt and I see my neighbor (a sort of friend, my age, her husband went to med school with me) heading off for the day, and I realize that my face is all red and it is obvious that I have been crying, so I try to explain that I’m ill, not crying. Somehow it all feels like a ruse – both the illness and the crying.

At some point in this dream, I am sweating and shivering and feverish curled up on a miscellaneous shrink’s couch, being observed. I think that also somewhere in the dream, I receive an invitation to my medical school graduation ceremony, an invitation which is vaguely threatening. I am trying to make the connection between those two events.

When I wake up, I am truly sweating because it is hotter than hell in the room, being mid-day in a bedroom that gets morning sun.

Dream 3

The last dream.

I am in my mother’s room – but the house of my middle school years, where we all were desperately unhappy, not the house of childhood that I loved, or the one in late high school where my mother lives today, which is her house more than anything. Whenever I have a nightmare that takes place at a childhood home, it is in this house, and whenever I dream about this house, it is a nightmare.

In real life: We moved there in my father’s desperate attempt to climb a social class, and all went to hell there when we didn’t fit in and life did not become the dream that this McMansion was supposed to buy him. I lost my neighborhood and school friends and he became more and more miserable.

In the dream:

I am in my mother’s bedroom and she’s sitting in bed, we’re chatting. My sweet cat is there, and he has found a little kitten that looks a lot like him. (Note: in real life, my mother recently visited a friend who is bottle-raising a litter of kittens and she told me that there was one who looked like a baby version of mine.) I am trying to convince her to keep him, as he is very cute and I feel sorry for him. The two cats seem inseparable, playing around various places in the house.

The two cats keep playing around. I see that the little kitten is somewhat dirty and has fleas. I take him into the adjacent bathroom – also true to the original floor plan of the house, down to the two vanity sinks, and wait for the water to heat up to bathe him, thinking that I need to go out and buy something as a flea treatment too.

I fill the sink with water and wash the little guy, chatting with Mom all the while about how long it takes the water to warm up, how much nicer he’ll look cleaned up. But the kitten starts choking a little, and I make sure to keep his head out of the water but he keeps choking.

Somehow, he seems to be getting smaller and in more and more distress. Finally, as the water drains, I realize he has become even smaller than a newborn kitten and has died, and changed shape. The core of him seems to shed the fur and creep off down the drain. I am terrified and don’t know what happened, what I did. I saw that something inside of him, something stick-like, slithered down the drain, so I wait, not sure he could be really dead. The skin and fur are still in the sink.

Then, a fully grown green dragonfly emerges from the sink, spreads and shakes out its wings, looks like a praying mantis. It flies around and I realize that whatever the thing was, it wasn’t a cat, or it was, and became a dragonfly. It flies around the bathroom. The turn of events is horrifying – how could this have happened? How could it have not been a kitten?

Downstairs, there is someone at the door, and my beloved cat goes to see who. I don’t open the door, because I know it is someone frightening. I think it is this trashy neighbor who lived a few doors down.

And then I woke up – the phone rang.

I have very few associations with this dream, except that this house appears from time to time in my nightmares. I’m not particularly afraid of dragonflies and have no associations with them other than admiring their long lifespan in high school biology. That bedroom and bathroom were on the third floor, don’t remember any kind of bug problem there.

My cat did once bring a praying mantis home (in my current apartment, he wasn’t even born at the time we lived in that house). Why did he have a double?

* * *
The only unifying theme I can see here is doors, closed doors, intruders behind the door. As a kid, door knocks when I was home alone used to terrify me, I’d run and hide, I think as a result of being a sensitive kid shown those “Stranger Danger” type filmstrips at school. I have never been the victim of a home burglary or assault. No one scary ever came to the door in real life.

So – anyone see any other threads? For whoever likes this kind of stuff – you’re invited to go at it. Is something coming for me?

Oddly, my partner also reported a night of nightmares, making me lean more toward either the metaphysical or heat explanation.


Thanks for continuing to read

When a poster on a blog like this stops posting, usually one of two things has happened: either they’ve hit a significant remission and have somewhat lost interest in all things mental-health-related, or they have taken ill in a way that keeps them from writing, usually either a severe depression, hospitalization, apathy, or the black hole, in which there is nothing to say. And, I guess, sometimes they die.

Usually they come back to writing sooner or later, good for the second group, not so good for the first. As far as I know, there are no reports from anyone from the third group hasn’t returning to blogging.

I, unfortunately, belong to the second group, have had a tremendous crash-and-burn. I’m not sure why I’m writing now, and I apologize for the quality; it is written through a haze of legal psychiatric drugs that makes it difficult to stay conscious, let alone coherent or eloquent.

I just wanted to say that the other night, I went outside in a miserable state, where there was no peace to be found – not in drugs, not in music or poetry or adventure novels, not in trashy magazines, and not in sleep, which, anymore, is haunted by nightmares. I sat under the stars and smoked a cigarette. The moon was half full; soon, it will be full, and then, after that, the next time it will be full, it will be Passover.

And I thought: I really would have liked to see another Passover, that holiday I love so much, when I really do feel the holiness in the air, the meanings, the social and the mystical. The elision of time, when it is that same night as it was so long ago, in which we start out bound and by the end, hopefully, will be freed. And the merging of the physical and spiritual – the tastes of the bitter and the sweet.

I always loved Passover, the one time when my skepticism and atheism faded into a sentimental belief in magic. I would have liked to see this one. One more. One more full Nisan moon, one more race to bed before midnight. One more hope for Eliyahu to come and save us from this sorry world. To save me, on the wings of the Shechinah.

But I just know that it isn’t going to happen. That I won’t have one more Spring. I think it’s too late now. I’m too far lost, beyond a way back, beyond where I can even want one.

And finally, after all this time of numbness and dead souls, I sobbed. I could imagine something, anything, that I did want to see, would have liked to see, to be there for. Knowing that, I could sob. Not for missing the rest of my life and not for the gruesomeness of death or hopelessness or suffering, but for the simple, plain, yet cosmically significant idea that  I really would have liked to make it to Passover. One more time, I would have liked to feel that. And I most likely won’t.

Just that. I am beyond missing future adventures, past beauty, beloved books and books to come, future love, past love, present people and the spectacular world around me. I’m far beyond mourning any of that. Those things all have lost the hold they once had on me. I don’t love the things that I used to love anymore.

But I would have liked to see the Seder table, one more time, the poetry and ritual of it, the full moon, the sense of blurring of boundaries between present and past, the individual and the symbol, the present reality and the hope for a better day. I would have liked…to just be there this Passover. And oddly enough, when nothing else could, that was enough to make me cry. I was sort of surprised I still could.

Crying at the shrink

I did cry at the shrink’s the other day, and that was strange, because I’m usually so hard and in control. But I was so strung out by anxiety and three days of no sleep from the bupropion that it took me a few minutes to even calm down enough to talk (this kind of hysterical shit is very unlike me). In an ominous tone, from him, “You NEED a mood stabilizer.”

He wanted to send me home then and there with an injection of phenergan so that I would sleep a few hours before being on call; I declined. Not a fan of the sleep aids. Last time I took zolpidem, I was fine and awake in the morning, but almost got in a car accident, which had never happened to me before. (And while on call, I saw yet another acute dystonic reaction, so there about the phenergan.)

But at least the massive anxiety from this drug, as well as the calming of the affective storm, for once made me feel both stable enough and uninhibited enough to actually talk to the guy about something that happened in my life that was very meaningful to me, that happened a long time ago, advice that someone gave me that let me move on from grief and heal tremendously from a big wound.

Without going into a long and sort of irrelevant story, the gist of it was that an older woman knew me well, and gave me permission to grieve about something when I was a teenager, to acknowledge a severe loss and hurt. She was one of my mother’s friends, artist-spiritual type, and gave me a concrete ritual to do to give myself permission to grieve, and maybe open doors to a grief I didn’t fully realize I had, or was entitled to. I remember thinking the idea was silly at first, but I went home and tried it (starting by looking at old pictures and just thinking about the people in them), and it unleashed a tremendous flood of tears.

Let me state that the “ritual” she recommended wasn’t an exorcism or supposed to work on some bullshit supernatural plane; I think it was pretty sound psychological advice, if phrased in terms of spirituality. It allowed me to realize a loss I hadn’t acknowledged because it came at such a horrible time in my life anyway, and to free me from the past by letting me discover various feelings of anger, injustice, and ultimately, mourning. It was not “out there” by any means. It wasn’t like she told me to draw a crop circle so aliens could come heal me. It was just something to formally mark a loss, which gave me the opening to feeling it.

And sometimes even today, years later, maybe once every couple of years, I revisit those photos and what she told me, and I cry again, hard. But it is different now, in the way that grief changes. I look at the pictures, and it’s not this raw gaping wound, it’s just sort of a nostalgia, a sense of being sorry that things didn’t go the way that they would have in a perfect world. A love for times and people past, with all the imperfections.

She gave me the gift of being free from something that could have torn me down, destroyed any potential I had to be other than numb or in shock for the rest of my life. She gave me the gift of healing.

When I think about it…no, that’s not right, when I feel it, really let myself remember and feel, I can’t help but cry. And that’s what happened at the shrink. It wasn’t like I was sobbing hysterically and out of control. It’s just that the story opens in me some very bittersweet emotions – of the loss, of the gratitude of being able to let go, of the magic of healing, and of a million other things, too.

I noticed also that for the first time with the shrink, I was talking in terms of how I really think, how I used to be, because it took me back to so long ago, to a time when I was in my core state, when I was really ok. I spoke in terms of ritual and feelings and symbols, which is a reflection of how I see the world, how I grew up, in a world of artists.

I think I concluded the story by saying something like, “That’s what I think I need now…a priestess. An older woman who knows what happens to women, how they get so hard and cold, the way I’ve gotten to be. I wasn’t like this then. I was warm, and loved everyone, and was so idealistic and compassionate and forgiving. I wasn’t ice like I am now. I need someone who understands how that happens to women’s spirits, how they get lost in the woods and meet so many monsters that they start building up armor, and how to set me free again.”

I’ve said to the shrink many times, “We don’t speak the same language.” I don’t think he ever quite got what I meant. It became clear to me. I have always spoken to him in medical language, the language I’ve learned, the language of pathology and death. But that isn’t my real language. I think that I had forgotten my real language a bit, and speaking in it, of ritual, magic, symbols and signs.

After I said all this, the contempt was all over his face. Then he said, “Sure, she just gave you a magic solution.” Obviously he also wanted to say that he thought that she had probably done me psychological harm. But it wasn’t a “magical solution” and it didn’t solve anything overnight.

He thinks that at the core, there is something wrong with me that it will take expert reparenting or whatever (naturally, by my submission to his worldview and acceptance of it, by letting him be daddy). I think that at the core, I am actually healthy, and just need to be freed from a lot of things that happened to me along the way. I need to find my way again.

And that is what became so clear to me sitting in front of him. For once, I didn’t give a shit that he was so dismissive, so utterly un-understanding, because I know what is wrong now. I need my language back, my self back. I need to get rid of the chains that medicine has wrapped around my soul and return to the path. I don’t need to fix what is broken; I need to find what is whole.

Suddenly I could see a chain of events, a period of time, in which I became hard, and cold, and unrelenting, began to speak in a foreign and cruel tongue.

I saw that he didn’t get it. So I started to say something like, I just think I need to see a woman…because I just hate men too much. It was my way of letting him off the hook. It isn’t his fault he’s a man. It’s easier and kinder to say that than to say that it is his fault that he hasn’t seen me, not really, not once, in all these years. That managed to set off a huge argument over whether it is normal or not to hate men. Which was missing the point, but that’s ok. I finally see it: he’s just not going to get the point.

But I do. And that’s a start.

* * *

When I asked her what I/we could/should do, she took up her walking stick and walked expressively and purposefully across the room. Dipping a bit from side to side.

She said: Live by the Word and keep walking.

– Alice Walker

I have a secret

This is the kind of thing I never admit. Not hardhearted, icy, witchy I.

Now, unmedicated, working so hard late into the night and into the madrugada, when I feel desparate, tired, worn-out and broken down at not even thirty, late in the dark, sometimes when I close my eyes but am too tired to sleep, I’ve been seeing your face. I don’t know if it is because I still love you – I actually am pretty sure I don’t – but I see in my mind a glimpse of you, your white blond hair (I, ironically, prefer dark men but the only man I ever loved was Nordic blond), shining in the sun, your head thrown back, laughing a little, innocent in the light at the river’s edge of some summer afternoon. I am not sure I cry for you, exactly, more likely I cry for a more innocent time, before I saw all that I have seen and have been as broken and put back together and broken again.

When I am alone late at night in the on-call room, alone alone, frightened at all I have seen and done in the emergency room, the broken hearts and broken bodies and broken lives, mine included, when I am shocked at how old, how hard I’ve become, it is your face, laughing, in the light, that I see, that brings me to tears.

I don’t think I really want you back. But I want back our time together, that age, when I only suspected how bad it could get and didn’t know, didn’t have the proof on my own bloody hands. I hope you are happy with your new wife, your baby, or, most likely by now babies. I know you don’t talk to me for her sake. And I am not still in love with you, but somewhere, like you said, we’re still making love in my secret life, and in my real life ya no respondo como antes…I never have.

So this is for you, Dale, even though you don’t read this, no one I know reads this, and you don’t read anything from me anymore, somewhere, just know that your face on some summer day is burned into my mind and that I wish you well and thank you for everything.

Te acuerdas de mi
no soy as que el mismo flaco
de siempre
con un conato de panza
que me esta haciendo lucir
como luce una soga
cuando en medio
tiene un nudo

El pelo un poco mas corto
y una tos de cigarro
que me despierta en las noches
vivo en el mismo lugar
calle màrtires 28
y aun conservo la cama
que fermenta tu humedad

El mismo lunar
en el sitio donde tu ya conoces
voy al mismo bar
para ver si asesino mis noches
y entre una nueva cana
y el deseo de encontrarte
se me gasta la vida

Pero te extraño a rabiar
al extremo de que nuestra cama
no le ha vuelto a usar
y si me cae una aventura
la revuelco en el sofa
por no herir al recuerdo
que se anida entre el colchon

Soy el mismo de ayer
aunque ya no respondo como antes
me tendria que ver
cuando ya no se encumbra el deseo
y entre charlas de Borges y de Garcia Marquez
busco un mejor momento

Fatter and slower, but nicer

I have gained 3 kg from the lithium. It is getting to bug me, because it is on top of the 8 from the last drug. I think it is because I am just lying around a lot, not exercising, as well as the eating and water gain.

My moods have settled – into a low-level unhappiness. Not even unhappiness, just that the things that were so important to me in life have lost their glow. I cannot write. Nothing. I don’t see that coming back while on this. And all of the sparkle has gone out of life. There’s nothing I look forward to, which pretty much echoes my life from before.

I feel like I did when I was 12 years old or so…before I ever had a high. Just flat. Not enough to be technically depressed, as the shrink pointed out, so he won’t give me anything for that. But suddenly, I don’t really care about flying around the world, I don’t get the flashes of running thoughts that make me smile to write, and I don’t look forward to anything in the next 60 or so years that await me.

That said, it has been pointed out to me that I have been much nicer to deal with, that I have not flown into a rage, that I have become less sensitive to things that drove me apeshit before (noise, etc).  I even think I could concentrate if I needed to study something – maybe even like I could at 12.

But I lost everything that made life worth living to me. I lost my exuberance. I lost my joy. I lost my words. What the fuck can I do now? Go back and try to con a GP out of another antidepressant? Take less lithium, though the shrink wants me to take more?

I just wish I could be me.

I’ll toss this question out there – Ronald Fieve? Legit or a quack? I was thinking of this book of his,  as it seems to deal with exactly my problem, but it also looks like it promises more than is realistic. Anyone read it?

How I got manic depression

The chain of bad luck, the family curse, began generations before I was born. Ours is a dynasty washed in suffering, inexplicable sadness, insanity, suicide, and unnamed misery. If one were to draw my family tree, it would be a hangman’s tree, the symbol of final verdicts, not amenable to appeal. In the shadow portrait of the tree there would be, between branches, spectral wispy figures: ghosts. In the wind, snatches of colorful fabric would flutter, torn from the clothing of some sad soul or another during his last fall. Some of them were brilliant, mostly in the arts, but none were able to find peace. Their lives were as restless as their deaths, damaged on every front. Not one of them knew the name of his suffering.

I was born at the end of the 1970s, before the genetic revolution, when questions of nature versus nurture still were in the fields of philosophy, or religion, or sociology. “Bad blood,” said the neighbors, but it was an expression, not a scientific statement.

I was the first-born daughter to the village’s “crazy family,” and the only reality I knew was the capricious changes in moods that seemingly blew in through the windows of our house, sweeping up with them my father and bringing in attacks of rage, of interminable sadness. Without the walls, I felt the eyes of the suburb upon us, waiting to see the next incident that would provide them with gossip for the coming week. Perhaps my father would sob in a bar, or my grandmother would shoot out the tires of someone who yelled at her in the street. And between them, I stood: the child prodigy at school, the genius, the girl who could do anything, afraid to ever be angry or disagree, afraid to show anything that could be construed as reflecting the fiery temper in her blood.

Childhood was spent in the shadow of that wild beast, the primitive nightmare monster that ceaselessly stalked my family, breathing hotly down our backs, generation after generation. I promised myself one thing; a singular, obsessive, unwavering vision guided me: I would not be like them when I grew up.

They flew into rages for no reason? I would never get mad. They got into trouble at work? I would be the best student ever. They were weird artists who dove deep into themselves to bring back strange, dark creations, full of wicked humor? I would give up writing and choose the most conservative, stable, boring, serious, and above all, respectable career that I could. To have a dignified life, to behave responsibly, was all I ever wanted. While the monster chased after me, I chased an image of what I saw as salvation with no less tenacity.

After my early successes, nothing seemed impossible. I could break the hand of fate itself. Not everything was preordained in those naive days. If I had known the name of the demon then, however, maybe I would have identified this “can do anything” attitude, the fanatic energy in which I threw myself into everything, the fiery stubbornness, not as proof that I would manage to escape, but rather as what they really were: signs that the demon had already cast its eye on me. Bad omens.

Because I didn’t know the name of the demon or its nature, I didn’t know that it was coming for me. I went through life like the girl through the fairy-tale woods, deaf to the snarls of the monster at my back, blind to his shining white teeth, not through bravery but rather through the firm belief in her own invincibility, granted by her tremendous force of will. I went out into the world convinced that I could conquer any challenge, bend anything to my own will. For a while, the universe agreed with me, and put up no wall I couldn’t break through, no mountain insurmountable. Sooner or later, I got everything I ever wanted – or at least everything that depended on my will and work.

But the beast was always there on the horizon, not impressed by my bravado. When I was still tenderly young, I started to storm from within. The tectonic plates of my inner geography began to shift around my boiling core. From year to year, all the while keeping up outside appearances, I became more and more aware that the beast had tasted my blood, that he was already in full pursuit.

When it got close enough for me to see its fangs, I did the one thing that I could with a demon breathing down my back: I ran. In shock and fear, I fled. By then, I knew that I couldn’t save my family, that that particular success, despite being deeply desired, was beyond me. The monster had its claws too deep in their flesh and lives, even before I was born. I spread wings of terror and flew. I hid in jungles that spoke in strange languages, hoping the demon would be confused. I wandered lost in the comforting desert. I crossed continents and roiling sea like a child stuck in a dream in which a primordial creature chases and chases and chases, unbound by the laws of physics, crashing after her through walls and over mountains. I fled, my heart in my throat.

The central theme of my youth was fleeing. I didn’t know that by the time I started to run, it was already too late.

But I did manage to escape for a few good years. Any time I felt the uneasiness, the inner violence, begin to well up, I tore up roots and ran again. Like any journey with no destination, my flight brought me unexpected treasures on the way: the poetry of Ruben Dario, the chance to develop my ability to adapt to any situation, adventure, bravery, and even this city I love. But I still didn’t know the nature of my pursuer. I did not know that it was already with me, in my genes, every step of the way. It had known how to find me since before I was born.

* * *

I tried so hard to run from them, to be saner than them, to be better than them – and I loathe those judgmental expressions for what they express about me, that deep down I thought myself better than them. But it is the ugly truth. Hubris will always lead to downfall. Always.

Naturally, the genetics did catch up in the end. Today, after my long, failed odyssey, I find myself alone, at the end of a dead-end street. I have no other option than to turn around, breathe deep, and try to live with my inheritance, the monster that lives in my mind. For the first time, the unstoppable girl, who could find a solution to any problem, who could do the impossible, cannot find her way out. In the marrow of my bones, I knew this was how it would end. I think I knew before I even started running. Now, all that remains for me to do is to surrender to what was decided before I came into the world. Like a wounded animal, all that remains for me is the instinctual desire to retreat, to go to a secluded corner, head down in defeat and mourning, and lick my wounds in secret, ashamed at my own weakness.

Despite this, I torture myself in the early sleepless hours of the morning, seeking my fatal mistake. It is hard to believe that I am totally innocent in the story. What could I have done differently? When should I have started running? When I was 14, it was already too late. At ten? Maybe that would have been early enough, but at that age, the monster was something wholly external, something that lived with my family. I didn’t know it was coming for me, that I was marked. When was that magic moment I missed, when I could have identified it, but still gotten out in time?

Or, as my hindsight torture continues, maybe I ran to the wrong place. Maybe I should have run west instead of east, to the sun-drenched islands in the South Pacific. Plenty of demon-chased people of all kinds have found a measure of sanctuary there. Perhaps demons don’t thrive in certain latitudes.

Or maybe the error was in running at all, trying be different. Maybe I should have just accepted the inevitability of the demon catching me, and gone into a more creative field, instead of trying to escape the demon by disguising myself in responsibility, rationality. At least in an artistic field – writing, the theater, there are many strange souls with demons in them. There, they are used to them, and know some of the enchantments and spells to calm the beasts.

Or maybe trying to escape was a bad idea. Maybe I should have fought from the beginning – diet, vitamins, exercise, sleep. Maybe I should have tried to learn more about what had happened generation after generation. Instead of calling it misery, sadness, desperation, exuberance, bad blood, demon, maybe I should have sought out its true name: manic-depression, and by knowing its name, obtained some kind of power over it, or a better weapon with which to slay the dragon, or even knowledge that would have helped me plan a better escape. But even today that is far off; I cannot say the name aloud, and when someone else says it, a wave of nausea and tremors wash over me, and a sharp desire to silence the speaker. I fear that calling its true name will somehow conjure it, call it into being. Clearly, the power of the true name is still in its hands, not mine. I am no closer to being able to wield the magic of the name than I was when I didn’t even know it. I cannot escape the feeling that if I could only remove the terrible power of the name, make it stop being able to freeze my blood, then maybe I could soften its influence over me, come to know it, and, maybe, come to some kind of peace with it living in my mind.

But the demon and I, we have no such cease-fire, and I am as tortured by it as by the words of the doctor who saw me this week, who pointed out damage to functions that I had hardly noticed, but that I cannot deny. I know that they weren’t there before, that they are now. How much of me has the monster eaten? How much more until it is satisfied? Will it leave me enough to live? To remain me? Enough to destroy my life?

And if all of that isn’t enough to keep me up at night, there is one more thing that I know deep down: that someday – and I’m not saying soon and I’m not saying that I won’t resist – but someday, this could certainly kill me. I think I have known that for a long, long time, perhaps, since before I even knew I was caught. In good moments, I am full of life and plans, and I see a long future and a million things I want to do. But it could come to pass that I won’t see any of them. I cannot predict whether it will be in the fire of mania, in my shipwreck in the middle of the Aegean sea, sunken by a storm that I entered in ecstasy, or in the silent, slowly crushing snowdrift of sadness. But the possibility, even on the days when the demon is silent, hovers over everything I do.

I wish I could go back to the child I once was, before the demon came to live inside me and broke my…my what? My sanity? My life? My will? My freedom? I want to go back in time and try again to identify the mistake, the misstep, the fatal juncture where I turned wrongly, the unidentified moment when I lost the battle. I want to know where, where, where I failed. More than anything, I want to be once again the girl who knew no boundaries, who challenged the very stars when they aligned against her, who thought she had a chance to beat her fate.

On Makeup and Magic

I have a strange relationship with my looks. As a child, I could never quite remember what I looked like. I would go about my day, and be faintly surprised every time I caught a snatch of my reflection in a windowpane or in a puddle. “Oh yeah,” I’d think. “That’s who I am.”

I was a beautiful child. It always surprises me now to see pictures from that time. Feral, yes; I hated for anyone to cut my nails or hair, and living in a sunny climate, ran around all day in a bathing suit or less, so I was bronzed, with golden-white streaks bleached into my hair, but beautiful in a healthy, wild way.

When I was 11 or 12, I started to gain weight, the kind of weight that girls get before growing into height, the little bit of extra fat needed for the estrogen to take over, and push them over the brink. But my father was merciless about this. He worked in a profession obsessed with the female figure, with adorning female beauty, and sometimes even satirizing it in drag. When I was a toddler, I was another mannequin for him, a doll to dress up, to paint with too much makeup. When I got fat, he called me things like, “thunder thighs” and “fat ass.” From that time, I felt ugly, repulsive, even though in pictures I was even kind of a cute, round kid. But from then on, I developed character. I always have a sort of ironic look on my face, even then. And I wasn’t even really overweight.

I am not sure this is a bad thing. It helped me realize that I would never be a great beauty, and let me develop all kinds of other things. I got funny, sarcastic, and, following my body’s inadvertent rebellion against his idea of the perfect daughter, I got braver in rebelling in other ways. I wasn’t what he thought a woman should be in looks, so I could start to think that I wouldn’t be in character, either. I ironed out most of my femininity, and good riddance. I became androgynous.

And yet…when I grew out of that weight a year or two later, into a female body, and into a scarily, precociously pretty 14 year old with a hundred year old soul, the way I felt about how I looked never caught up. I still felt androgynous, rough, like “one of the boys,” but now I looked like a wild woman full of sex. While all of my friends’ parents were drawing lines in the sand about makeup, my father always encouraged excesses of dress and paint. His idea of the beautiful woman was stagy, and I was always encouraged to wear more makeup, not less. I developed a style of heavy makeup that did not fall into the category of goth or punk. Dark eye makeup, sharp, dark lips, more costume than rebel or harlot. I had a lion’s mane of ethnic long hair, nothing like all the girls around with their straight, orderly lines hanging smoothly down their backs. Other kids at school used to tell me that I reminded them of different actresses on popular TV shows, always the token ones who shared my ethnicity. They had no idea that they were recognizing ethnic lines, not personal ones.

This lesson about feminine wiles and tricks wasn’t a bad lesson for a headstrong, contrary daughter. The view he imparted to me was that it is hard enough to be a woman, let alone a smart, ambitious one, so I should use any advantage I could get – the fact that a pretty woman is less threatening, that sex appeal is a manipulative tool. Gloria Steinem versus Betty Friedan: Gloria can be radical, as long as she wears the miniskirt, while ugly, conciliatory Betty is shunned. My dark pouty lips became just another tool for my ambition. I bent male teachers to my will with my soft voice and softer breasts, and I liked the power in that. No matter how intellectual the milieu, how purportedly un-shallow, pretty women will always get away with more. I learned how easy it was to carry a cutlass, as long as it was kept well-hidden in feminine frills.

But it never quite felt like me. Underneath, I was still, in my own mind, androgynous, more boy than girl, still ugly and fat, even if I had mastered a woman’s enchantments and put them to good use. I still don’t think I am very pretty on my own. My heavy makeup is my warpaint.

This bred a strange duality: armed with my makeup, I feel ten times more beautiful than I really am. This feeling alone is enough to summon the illusion, to imbue me with power. In our culture, the cruel double-standard of misogyny and advertising convinces even the most beautiful woman that she is flawed. It is a distortion of reality, but in this strange world we live in, it may be a sign of health for a woman like me to truly believe and feel beautiful, and to recognize the politically incorrect power that that bestows.

Without my warpaint, I am none of these things. I am ugly again, and fragile. For all my feminism, all my pushing ahead in a rough, man’s field, making myself harder than the men around me, I cannot leave the house without makeup. It is a primordial magic; the ritual of application transforms me from impotent, rejected orphan to fiery sorceress. Like Eve, I cover my nakedness, and beyond. I paint myself a shield and sword.

And yet, I long for the day when the illusion will become real, when I know that the power is not conjured from without only through strange rituals and painted hieroglyphics around my eyes and lips. Now that my thousand and one mystical masks have brought me through storm and roiling sea, I have finally reached a calm shore, a place where I would like nothing more than to rest, respite from this amaranthine sorcery. In these calm latitudes, the ritual has become onerous, is no longer as imperative or as seductive as it once was. I feel a slave to the rituals of potions and dyes, but am afraid to risk offending the source of the protection that carried me safe through adolescence and across the seas. No one in this place I live even wears makeup anymore, except me. I no longer have to prove myself again and again and again. Sometimes, I want to be who I was before, naked. I don’t want to look invincible anymore. Having become the witch, I just want to be human again, now that I am in a place where female humans might be allowed to survive.

I have tried to trick the magic, but I cannot give it up entirely. I dress much more simply, even shabbily, reverting to boyish cuts of jeans, the clothes no longer my conspiratorial altar items. I have let myself go to work with very light makeup, light enough, in fact, that I’m sure it isn’t much different from not wearing any. But…I am. It is vastly different than not wearing any. I have tried to have people drop in on the weekends when I am theoretically not painted, to show them a glimpse of the woman behind the curtain, but I cheat, washing my face lightly, so smudges of smoke remain around my eyes, leaving traces of the mask, enough for me to know that it is there should I need it, that the dark lines surround my pale features that I am afraid would blend into nothingness without ritualistic demarcation.

Sometimes, when I feel unlike myself, I play with the idea of going about my day with no makeup, wearing my vulnerability and my fragility for all the world to see, perhaps even enticing someone to offer me consolation. I never do, though. The furthest I get is to the door, before I dash back, terrified of losing the source of my protection, of arousing the wrath of She who has kept me so well, to add a smudge of kohl around my eyes, a touch of pomegranate wine around my mouth, an ambivalent libation; the mark of my consecration to her cult on my face for all the world to see.